Dueling with the Red Dragon - Page 3
This morning and before each day’s start, the runners are checked for a hefty gear kit they are required to carry in case of severe weather or accidents. The kit includes dry clothing, a compass, a mobile phone and critical phone numbers, and a pencil and paper so they can write a note for fellow runners to carry in case they need help.
The run begins in two waves. “Joggers” and “walkers” start at 8:50 a.m., while “runners” go at 11 a.m. with less than six hours of daylight to finish. Team Canada opts for the later start.
Each day’s course is divided into four stages, with checkpoints and aid stations roughly every six miles. Today’s first stage takes the field around the Dale Peninsula, into the teeth of the southerly wind. The first checkpoint is less than a mile across the peninsula from the start but six miles into the course, thanks to the tortuous route. The trail is mucky, slippery and liberally coated with sheep, uh, droppings, while the wind makes footfalls wobbly and uncertain.
“The toughest thing was the slippery mud. It was totally different from the packed trails we’re used to,” says Betty.
“I think the wind was the hardest thing. It drained me, and and also caused dehydration,” says Lishe.
Team Canada rides emotional highs and lows: they’re thrilled to have made it here at last but daunted by the challenge that has seemed to grow. They have realized that they have lost key details in translation from British runner-speak to North American. Elevation will be much more of a factor than they anticipated; they had focused on the maximum elevation, not total elevation change.
“We were very cocky coming over here, but really had no idea about the terrain or the conditions, no idea it would take as long as it did,” says Lishe.
Today’s course actually climbs and descends about 3450 feet—and days two and three increase from here. And a “runner” here is closer to an elite competitor who will run most of the course, while the Canadians generally run and walk so would have been better classed as “joggers.” They also know that they will finish this challenging day in the dark.
Jan falls three times early on, and Lishe’s spirits crash. The wind is warm and they are wearing too many clothes. Where the path crosses pastures, they have to open gates and climb over stiles—more than 100 of them today alone. The path is well marked with its upside-down acorn insignia, but side trails bear off regularly and the Canadians grow frustrated with repeated navigational errors.
Today they do something they seldom do on training runs—they stick together behind their strongest member, pushing along at “Pat’s Perfect Pace.”
When the light fades at about 4:45 p.m. they are among the last runners on the course. Within a mile or two of the finish, they end up thrashing in the gorse—thorny shrubs native to Western Europe and Northwest Africa—in the dark, well off track again.
They finish more than an hour after dark but their time, 7 hours 15 minutes, is respectable given their detour. And they look fresher than some who finished ahead of them and are already limping.
Team Canada and and an English friend look fresh at day one’s final checkpoint in Broad Haven.
The evening is short and busy: they shower, eat, wash clothes and prep food and drinks for the next day. At dinner, race coordinator Peter Mason suggests tactfully that Team Canada might try the early start on Saturday. The words are barely out of his mouth when several of the runners blurt, practically in unison: “Yes, we’re getting the early bus!”
“It was much, much harder than I thought it would be,” says Lishe. “It was an extremely humbling day.”